33 Genius Tips Only Pro Shoppers Know
Stop making money mistakes and start shopping like one of the pros.
For some people, shopping is little more than a nuisance—something generally avoided at all costs and done only when absolutely necessary. For others, however, shopping is more like a sport—an enjoyable undertaking that requires patience, skill, and a lot of effort.
The people who fall into this latter category are what are known as “pro shoppers,” and it is from them that amateur consumers can learn a thing or two about the art of saving money and making smart purchases. If you consider yourself to be completely clueless when it comes to being a customer, then keeping reading to discover some savvy shopping tips courtesy of the pros.
Only shop online when necessary.
Though shopping online is much more convenient than going to the store, you should only buy something online “when you’re getting a much better deal than in store or if you’re trying to purchase a hard-to-find item,” says Patrick Kenger, a personal stylist and founder of Pivot Image Consulting. “Shopping in stores is always preferable because you get to feel the fabric, see how it fits in real time, and see how it moves on you. It saves you a lot of returns and headaches in the long run.”
Wait for items to go on sale.
One thing every pro shopper knows? Most items will go on sale eventually, meaning that there’s no point buying things when they’re still full price. But how are you supposed to know when that purse you’ve been eyeing is finally on the clearance rack?
Well, there’s an app for that, and it’s called Shoptagr. As Camillia Fitzsimmons, marketing manager at Shoptagr, explained: “The app enables you to save items from more than 3,000 online stores to wish lists and notifies you when items go on sale.”
Know when different items go on sale.
“All categories of products—from furniture to sneakers—tend to go on sale in cycles,” explains Sara Skirboll, a shopping and trends expert with RetailMeNot. At the end of the year, for instance, you’ll find sweet savings on security systems, winter apparel, electronics, toys, and even champagne. And if you want to keep track of all the deals going on every month, Skirboll suggests keeping up with The Real Deal, RetailMeNot’s blog which “posts the monthly items to keep your eyes on.”
Pay with cash.
It pays to pay for purchases with cash instead of a credit card. Per one study conducted by Dun & Bradstreet, people spend anywhere from 12 to 18 percent more when they opt to pay with a credit cash instead of cash. People don’t tend to think of the long-term fiscal repercussions when they make purchases with their plastic, and at the end of the month when that statement arrives, their oversight can come back to bite them.
Look out for storewide closing sales.
Because of the rise of online shopping and the associated reduction in foot traffic at many stores, countless brands are being forced to close their brick-and-mortar locations. Though this isn’t ideal for companies, what it means for you is that “these stores are desperate to offload their inventory and will often sell it at liquidation prices, even on the web,” explains Skirboll. “Just as stock market experts are seizing on quality stocks at low bottom prices, savvy shoppers will save a lot of money by capitalizing on fire sales.”
Take advantage of holiday sales.
The holiday season is a great time to stock up on the things you need for a fraction of the cost. “Retailers love an excuse to have a promotion,” says Kenger, “and on nearly any holiday, you’ll find stores that are having some sort of sale. Try to save your bulk shopping trips until then.”
Don’t be afraid to buy pre-owned goods.
Though inexperienced buyers often scoff at the idea of owning pre-loved items, savvy shoppers know that buying gently-used items is one of the best ways to score a deal, especially when it comes to designer goods. But, since you have to be careful about avoiding all the fakes out there, it’s best to only purchase items from trustworthy sites like TheRealReal, Tradesy, and Poshmark, all of which guarantee the authenticity of items and offer full refunds should you find that something you purchase is not authentic.
Utilize Google’s “shopping” feature.
Take some time to search the internet before you decide which website you want to use to buy a specific item. Though this sounds like a tedious task, there’s actually a helpful feature built into Google that makes doing this all the easier. “The Google shopping tab allows you to quickly see what other retailers are offering the product for and will give you a better sense of the true market price,” explains Matt Ross, the co-owner and COO of savings site RIZKNOWS.
Create an email address just for promotions.
You’re almost guaranteed to delete promotional emails from stores if they end up clogging up your inbox and making it harder to respond to those messages you can’t afford to ignore. However, these emails sometimes contain special coupons and sale codes, and so Kenger suggests creating a new email address solely for the purpose of storing these deals. “When you’re looking to go shopping, you can go dig in this email address and find some deals to save you money on your trip,” he explains.
Download browser extensions that automatically apply coupons.
“One of the easiest ways to save money when you’re online shopping is by taking advantage of technology,” explains Sarah Hollenbeck, a shopping and retail expert with BlackFriday.com. When it comes to saving money online, the frugal fashionista especially enjoys using the Offers.com browser extension, which applies coupons directly to your online cart before you check out with no additional work required.
Follow discount bloggers.
The great thing about the internet is that it’s full of bloggers who are happy to share their shopping wisdom with you. On Instagram, for instance, there is an entire couponing community where mom bloggers and similarly frugal influencers share tips about how they were able to score essential items on the cheap—like bottles of laundry detergent for less than $1 a pop. And if saving money on clothes is more up your alley, then you can follow bloggers like luxe__hunt who are constantly posting about online and in-store designer deals.
Keep track of Amazon prices as they fluctuate.
If you’re not in a rush to buy everything in your cart on Amazon, then you should hold off on making any impulse purchases and instead use CamelCamelCamel to track the prices of the items over time. Plus “with the app, you can see what the particular item was priced at last month, the month before that, or even a year before,” says Ross.
Shop during seasonal transitions.
It might sound counterintuitive, but the best time to shop for winter clothes is at the beginning of the spring, the best time to shop for spring clothes is at the beginning of the summer, and so on. “At the end of each season, retailers need to make room for new items, so they’ll slash prices on the older stuff,” explains Kenger.
Take advantage of discount stores.
Pro shoppers know full well never to pay retail prices for their favorite designer brands. Rather, they do their shopping at stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, and Last Call by Neiman Marcus—in other words, stores that stock designer duds for a fraction of the price. “These stores have amazing deals on quality clothing, shoes, and accessories, oftentimes with deals as high as 90 percent off,” says Hollenbeck.
Pay for purchases with secondhand gift cards.
“If you’re shopping at a popular retailer, you can likely find a discounted gift card to use,” says Hollenbeck “Sites like CardPool and Raise allow people to sell gift cards to others for a discount—sometimes up to 10 percent off. This is a great strategy to use all year round when you’re doing your everyday shopping, and it can have an especially huge impact when you try it during the holidays.”
Double-check deals on all your devices.
Believe it or not, sites will provide different prices for the same item based on the device you’re using to look them up. According to Skirboll, this happens because algorithms will take note of the type of device and, based on that, assume your income level. “For example,” says Skirboll, “a shopper using a Mac or iPhone may see a higher price because the algorithm assumes that shopper has a higher income.”
Though it’s always more fun to shop with a friend, shopping alone is much more conducive to being a smart spender. As Jill Chivers, the blogger behind My Year Without Clothes Shopping, explains: “[Shopping partners] can egg us on into making purchases that we don’t want or need….If you want to go shopping as a social activity, that’s okay—but make it a purely social activity with no purchasing allowed.”
Only shop on the weekends when necessary.
If you can help it, then try not to make a trip to the mall on Saturday or Sunday. Why? “The busiest time for retailers is on weekends from 12 pm to 4pm,” explains Kenger. According to the personal stylist, trying to shop while simultaneously fighting against hordes of people is not conducive to a successful shopping trip, and grabbing the goods you need outside of this window will help to “make your trip more productive and headache-free.”
Don’t get suckered into buying something you don’t need.
When salespeople try to act all chummy with you, it’s easy to forget that their one and only goal is to sell you things—whether you need them or not. But “no matter how friendly or pleasant a salesperson is, here is the fact you cannot avoid: they’re in it for the sale,” says Chivers. “They may engage in friendly behaviors, but their purpose is singular. Be mindful of this so that you only buy items you need and will use, not because an effective salesperson talked (or guilted) you into it.”
Learn how to score discounts at eating establishments, too.
Before you make dinner reservations or head out for a night on the town, Hollenbeck suggests checking out Restaurant.com, LivingSocial, and Groupon for potential discounted deals and even free meals. “There are plenty of apps and websites out there that offer great discounts at your favorite restaurants throughout the year,” she says.
Don’t rely on the supposed “retail price.”
Retailers love to trick people into thinking that they’re getting a great deal. One of the ways in which they do this is by marking up the “original” price of an item when it goes on sale so that when they report the percentage discount, it looks much steeper than it actually is. So, instead of taking any supposed discounts and deals at face value, make sure to study up on an item’s market value before buying it.
Don’t forget about cash back.
“One of the worst ways to leave money on the table is by not taking advantage of discount opportunities and cash back offers,” says Skirboll. “While most people are aware of coupon codes, cash back is one of the most underutilized methods of saving.” And earning cash back online isn’t difficult either: Skirboll’s favorite browser extension, RetailMeNot Genie, “scours the internet for the best discount codes and cash back offers and automatically applies them to your cart.”
Don’t fall for freebie offers.
How could a buy one, get one deal possibly end up costing you money? Well, since a retailer’s number one goal is to make as much money as possible, they will often mark up the price of an item that is undergoing a BOGO deal so that you’re actually paying more than you normally would. Before you give in to any sort of freebie deal, check the price of similar items at the store—and if the other products are priced significantly lower, consider whether you actually need two of the item you’re buying before giving in to that BOGO promo.
Make shopping lists.
Unnecessary impulse purchases are huge wallet killers. The good news? When you have an idea of what you want to buy in advance, “you don’t make impulse purchases,” explains Fitzsimmons. The next time you head to the supermarket or shoe store, just make sure to have with you a detailed list of everything you need, and you should be able to successfully avoid any and all fiscally irresponsible temptations.
Don’t be fooled by decoy pricing.
Retailers love to trick consumers into buying expensive items by using a strategy known as the “decoy effect.” Essentially, this trick involves placing a pricey item—say, a $150 speaker—next to an even pricier item—perhaps a $300 speaker—in order to make the original item look like a bargain by comparison.
Don’t use a sale as an excuse to buy something unnecessarily.
Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean that it’s worth buying. Of course, if something you originally intended to buy is on sale then you should absolutely go for it, but there’s no reason to throw something in your cart for the sole reason that it’s marked down.
Follow your favorite brands on social media.
If you tend to shop at the same four or five stores, then you should definitely make a point to follow them on all forms of social media. Retailers love to post about exclusive details via Twitter, Instagram, and the like, and so subscribing to your favorite stores’ newsfeeds could potentially pay off in the long run.
Manage your coupons digitally.
Keep track of all your money-saving coupons using SnipSnap. Through the mobile app, supersavers can take photographs of their printed coupons and either find the same coupon online or create their own mobile coupon to use in store. And not only does this genius app keep coupons organized, it also sends you reminders when coupons are about to expire and notifies you when you’re near a store where your coupons are valid!
Do your mattress shopping online.
Though the idea of shopping for a mattress online freaks a lot of people out, it’s actually a better bet as far as saving money goes. “Shopping through online retailers who sell beds-in-a-box cuts out the middleman and cuts down on costs,” explains Ashley Little, a staff writer at Mattress Advisor. Plus, “lots of brands offer great trial periods,” so even if you don’t love your purchase, you can always return it free of charge and buy something else.
And wait until the holiday season to buy a new bed.
“If you’re looking to score the best deal on a new bed, definitely keep an eye out during the major holidays,” says Little. “Around President’s Day, the Fourth of July, Black Friday, and Christmas, there are always the best sales of the year.” And don’t freak out if you can’t get to the store on the day of the holiday: According to Little, the sales “tend to be extended a day or two” past the holiday itself.
Educate yourself on a store’s policies.
Before you go out to do your shopping, make sure to read up on the policies of the store you’re headed to. Many stores offer price matching, for instance, so it’s often possible to get a lower price on an item simply by showing the cashier that a competitor is offering a deal.
Consider buying generic brands.
Many grocery stores—and even some major retail chains like Target and JCPenney—sell in-house brands that offer discounted versions of the products people are looking to buy. For instance, Target’s own Archer Farms sells an 18-pack of pumpkin spice coffee pods for just $10. You’d have to spend just under $12 to get a 16-pack—not even 18!—of Dunkin’ Donuts’ pods in the same flavor.
Buy things in store for free shipping.
Shipping costs are the bane of every bargain hunter’s existence. If you know that the item you’re looking to buy online is also available in stores, though, then you can just head to a brick-and-mortar shop and ask for the item to be sent to your home—entirely free of charge. Of course, this does mean that you’ll have to leave the house (and put on pants)—but if your ultimate goal is to avoid carrying large packages through the mall and all the way to your car, then this is a cheap and easy answer to your problem.
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